Listening to the hushed voice and muted, finger-picked acoustic guitar of New Zealand’s Maxine Funke often feels similar to overhearing a conversation not meant for your ears. So much of her music is almost silent. If such a thing is possible, Seance, is even quieter than her previous work. While the points of reference that often come up include Sibylle Baier, and it’s not difficult to see how, there’s something more buoyant, more unfinished, less time-bound about Funke’s work. One could just as easily compare her to Joanna Robertson, Julie Byrne, or Kath Bloom, and none of those would quite fit either.
At one point, Funke was married to prolific New Zealand experimental musician Alastair Galbraith, with whom she played in the short-lived $100 Dollar Band. She also had a brief rock background with the Beaters. Still, if any of that informs her current work, it’s only perhaps in her tendency toward four-track home recording technology or the occasional experiment (Galbraith guested on 2018’s Silk). And a few of those experiments appear on Seance. The nearly eight-minute “Quiet Shore” includes a strange, reverberating pulse that grounds her feathery, nylon-stringed guitar touches. “Moody Relish” has a primitive drum machine beat as its musical center, as Funke recites clipped phrases such as “eyeballs, asphalt, grass clippings”. Eventually, her guitar and subtle electric keyboard join the toy percussion to cup her observations.
But like her other releases, most of this record is for voice and guitar, and it shows unhurried control over phrasing in a world she has created. “Lucky Penny” feels like a lullaby or perhaps a dream as it wafts by like some barely felt undercurrent, her vocals an echo-y hum. “Homage” seems to acknowledge loss, with words like, “Trapped in a storm cloud / That ship was set on fire.” Yet, it sounds like a celebration of the destruction and freedom that comes after the storm has passed and the fires have smoldered.
Seance feels like a record Funke had to sneak into a secret room to record. Or perhaps sessions could only happen in the middle of the night after children were put to sleep, so careful is she not to rise above a whisper. It’s the vibration of a fleeting ghost, and it seems to come from someone who needs to keep the rest of us at arm’s length. In a 2018 interview from fanzine Dynamite Hemorrhage she claimed to be living in a “tiny town at the bottom of New Zealand” where she plays guitar and looks at an island outside her window. To take in her music is to slow time down, watch a spider methodically envelop its catch for the day, or marvel at a flower on an okra plant.